When I was a kid spending summers at my dad's childhood home in the deep woods not far from Oxford, Ms., our favorite destination was a place a mile or two up the road from Mamaw and Papaw's place, called the Sand Cave. Mamaw's family owned it; she'd grown up on that property; her father was a fiddler and from him she inherited the Cave and a natural lifelong tendency to sing and dance and make up riddles and rhymes. I wrote about the Sand Cave in my novel about growing up down in Mississippi, and it was a challenge to try to capture the hushed, pure, otherworldly presence of that place of pristine natural beauty. Not a cave really, the Sand Cave was the result of half a hill collapsing, leaving immense knife-edged sand ridges that intersected a fifty-foot semi-circular red clay cliff ringed with forest at the top. A clear, beautiful, musical, shallow stream ran along the foot of the Cave area, disappearing off into dark and mysterious woods, and deep sand had washed down amongst the saplings to the creek, creating an absolutely magical playground. We battled each other (visiting "city-slicker" Deltans and country cousins) to the tops of the sand ridges playing King of the Mountain, yelling and holloring, with our voices echoing back from the cliffs. We picnicked in the sand and wandered down the stream until only the decending darkness could force us back to the old beat-up pickup to head back to Papaw's farmhouse. A few years ago I stopped to visit relatives there on the way from Oxford to Greenville on my book tour, and decided to go check out the Sand Cave and see if it, like so many monuments of childhood, had diminished with Time. I drove my rental car carefully along a rutted gravel road to the Cave, waved hello to the drivers of a couple of vehicles encountered en route, and pulled over to find an eight-foot chain-link fence festooned with barbed wire blocking access to the Cave. Signs forbade any more dumping, and stated that dumping along the road was forbidden. Too late--all along the last third of the drive old chairs and couches, mattresses and defunct TV's and plain old garbage, lined the ditches. I got out to see if there was any way down, but like they say, you can't go home again: the fence extended down in each direction, and the rough terrain combined with my inadeguate clothing--no sturdy boots to fend off briars and snakes, no jeans or longsleeves or hat--dissuaded me from exploring further. It was clear that the most pure and holy natural place I'd ever known had been used as a garbage dump for decades, and was filled to the brim with old refrigerators and stoves and tires and every manner of cast-offs and debris. Should I win the lottery, I'll buy the Sand Cave back and have it cleaned and restored...although we know this isn't too likely to happen. But I buy my tickets, just in case. And meanwhile, to revisit the Sand Cave in its heyday when I knew it and loved it with the passion of a child who intuited that such amazing places are hard to come by and should be seriously treasured while they last,I can close my eyes and go back in time to feel the sand whispering under my bare feet, and wade in the water, and hear the soft wind soughing through the pines. And, hopefully, readers of the "Zanda" chapter in my novel will, through words that are inadequate to fully capture that mystery, wander the Sand Cave with me, preserved in all its glory as it was, saved from the ravages of blindness, and rough utility, and all the erosions of Time.
THE SOUL MUST SPEAK, AND LONGS TO BE HEARD
In Fiction is the Preservation of the World
October 7, 2011
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